- The Magazine
After the long, strange trip of the past film year, could it be that Oscar voters might have gotten it right this time? The nominees for the 93rd Academy Awards are a high-quality roundup of films and performances that astutely reflect a lot of what we cared about more than movies in 2020. These aren’t frivolous times, and these aren’t frivolous films. Even the comedy about a clueless Kazakh reporter trying to pawn off his offspring on an oblivious Mike Pence showed heart and purpose.
Ultimately, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm made an impact because, like most of us, the film staked real value in family, health, social justice, and civil rights. As did Judas and the Black Messiah and Minari, Nomadland and Promising Young Woman, Time, Soul, and Sound of Metal, among many others. Largely eschewing spectacle for the intimate scale of the personal crusade, these movies still captured larger-than-life heroes and movements, powerful triumphs and struggles. They captured us.
Did the Academy get it totally right? Of course not — unless every single member is currently working on the script that will finally garner Da 5 Bloods star Delroy Lindo an Oscar nomination. It’s equally shocking that no branch of the Academy recognized the craft, wit, or elegant storytelling of Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow. But, better than most crops, these nominees represent a solid harvest of the best films that mattered during a year we’ll never forget. They’re all winners, but here’s who we think will take home a trophy on Oscar night.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Florian Zeller’s The Father, about a brilliant man whose mental faculties are fading, is a magnificent play. For as long as there are staged dramas and human frailty, the title role, like Lear, should be a mountain that actors of ambition and a certain age aspire to climb. Starring in Zeller’s graceful film adaptation, six-time Academy Award nominee Sir Anthony Hopkins is one of the few octogenarian actors who are thespian enough to handle the role, and movie star enough to make it fill the screen, and he likely will be rewarded for scaling Zeller’s mountain. If so, the win would mark an upset over front-runner Chadwick Boseman, whose final film performance as hard-headed horn player Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom should also stand the test of time.
Should Win: Chadwick Boseman
Will Win: Anthony Hopkins
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Boseman’s co-star in Ma Rainey’s, Viola Davis, delivers an acting masterclass as the bossy, soda-swilling blueswoman, but that’s no more a lead performance than Davis’ Oscar-winning role in Fences was truly a supporting one. So-called category fraud might nip her chances at nabbing a second Oscar. Conversely, Frances McDormand is front and center nearly every scene of Nomadland, but Academy members may be resistant to the idea of bestowing a third Oscar on the actress for a fine performance that was not her film’s chief achievement. Vanessa Kirby’s turn as an expectant mom devastated by loss in Pieces of a Woman is a remarkable achievement in portraying grief and resilience, but the film overall isn’t as moving as her work within it. The same might be said of The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which divided audiences, who universally agreed that Andra Day’s arresting performance as Billie is the reason to watch. Carey Mulligan always gives audiences a reason to pay attention, and never more so than in Promising Young Woman, a fable about female empowerment that derives a great deal of its power from Mulligan’s fierce conviction. Her Cassie is a wily fighter who puts the fear of God into the hearts of cowardly men — so she probably won’t win.
Should Win: Carey Mulligan
Will Win: Andra Day
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Category fraud rears its head here too, as the Academy’s unexpected nomination of LaKeith Stanfield pits the nominal leads of Judas and the Black Messiah against each other for the supporting actor prize. Not that Stanfield’s mercurial take on Black Panther Party infiltrator William O’Neal isn’t deserving of accolades, but the film really is the story of what O’Neal and the FBI did to Fred Hampton.
If Stanfield’s not the lead, that leaves fellow nominee Daniel Kaluuya’s magnetic Panther leader Fred Hampton, who might be the heart of the film, but, alas, is not exactly its protagonist. The true supporting performances in this category are Sacha Baron Cohen’s lively, if bizarrely accented, Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Leslie Odom, Jr.’s standout soulful contribution to the ensemble of One Night in Miami. The best performance here, however, belongs to Paul Raci, who imbued Sound of Metal‘s recovery counselor Joe with the kind of compassion, patience, and take-no-shit honesty that embodies the meaning of support.
Should Win: Paul Raci
Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
The actresses nominated for supporting roles indeed all played supporting roles in their films, and they each deservedly stand a legitimate chance of winning an Oscar. Although almost no one actually loved Hillbilly Elegy, also no one can argue that nominated star Glenn Close isn’t due. This is the hitherto Oscar-less legend’s eighth nomination, and, if the voters can see past her Mama’s Family drag as feisty Mamaw Vance, she might finally foist off the record she shares with Peter O’Toole as the most-nominated actors to never win. Or, as happened in 2019, Olivia Colman, nominated for The Father, might swoop in to swipe the shiny statuette from Glenn’s clutches. Amanda Seyfried is incandescent playing Golden Age movie star Marion Davies in Mank, and Korean film veteran Yuh-Jung Youn is undeniably superb as another feisty grandma, in the American farm family tale Minari.
But it’s newcomer Maria Bakalova who earned our respect, laughter, and undying gratitude for stretching her talents in the myriad different directions demanded by her role in Borat Subsequent Film. To paraphrase Rosamund Pike: Ms. Bakalova, we all salute your bravery.
Should Win: Maria Bakalova
Will Win: Yuh-Jung Youn
Now, as long as the Academy doesn’t Green Book us again, and reach for the lowest-hanging fruit — i.e., The Trial of the Chicago 7, a rousing but not remotely groundbreaking Hollywood liberal history lesson — the voters really can’t go wrong naming any of the other nominees the year’s best picture. They’re all great movies that, in some way, encapsulate where we were and who we were in 2020, while offering rays of hope for a brighter future. “What’s remembered, lives,” is the line in Nomadland that helps put the journey in perspective, and this crazy year will live on in the films we remember about those unexpected turns along life’s travels.
Should Win: Promising Young Woman
Will Win: Nomadland
Here is the full list of 2021 Oscar nominations (honoring movies released in 2020). Will Win is denoted by WW, and who I think Should Win is denoted by SW.
Documentary Short Subject:
Live Action Short Film:
International Feature Film:
Makeup and Hair:
The 93rd Academy Awards airs Sunday, April 25, 8pm ET on ABC.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!